Democrats Suddenly Claim They've Never Opposed Voter ID

A slew of high-profile Democrats rewrite history.

In April, I wrote about the extreme rhetoric used by many Democrats and those in the media in the course of opposing and criticizing new voting laws, which included things like voter identification.

Now, in the latest of a string of remarkable claims about the issue from high-profile Democrats, House Majority Whip and South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn appeared on Fox News and told anchor Neil Cavuto that “no Democrat has ever been against voter ID.”

The context for Clyburn’s remark is that West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has come out in support of voter ID as part of federal voting reforms. Manchin is a pivotal senator — Democrats need his vote in order to pass anything at all. That means that many of them have in recent weeks come to embrace some form of voter identification.

But there’s a bit of rewriting history going on when they claim that they were never against this proposal in the first place, and it’s hardly limited to Clyburn. Earlier this summer, Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock made a similar claim. “I have never been opposed to voter ID. And in fact, I don’t know anybody who is,” he said.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of Democrats opposing voter identification laws. For instance, this McClatchy report from 2012 highlights Clyburn’s opposition to a new voter ID law that South Carolina enacted:

Clyburn warned that this law was a “danger” to “democracy”:

U.S. House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn and voting-rights advocates warned Wednesday that laws in South Carolina and other states could disenfranchise millions of Americans in the November presidential elections.

The congressman compared the voter photo ID law that Gov. Nikki Haley signed last month and similar laws in other states with the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws that Southern states enacted, imposing poll taxes, literacy tests and other hurdles to prevent blacks from voting.

“It was effective then, and if we aren’t vigilant, it will be effective today,” Clyburn said. “We must make sure that people are aware of the danger to our democracy.”

To be fair to Clyburn, he did offer a similar sort of pivot a month later, claiming that voter ID itself “is not a problem….the big problem has been the go to there.” It’s possible then that Democrats would claim that they’ve never opposed all theoretical forms of voter ID laws, just the ones that actually exist on the books, which they compared to Jim Crow.

Perhaps that would also be Warnock’s explanation. GOP communications staffer Nathan Brand highlighted a sermon where Warnock blasted Georgia’s “unnecessary and unjustifiable voter ID laws” in 2012:

The National Conference on State Legislatures keeps a database of states that have some form of voter ID law. 37 states have such a law. Some of the states that do not require any form of documentation to vote include some of the most Democratic — New York and California are on that list. Presumably the lawmakers that have not imposed this requirement do oppose it on some philosophical grounds beyond just objecting to the details of particular laws like Georgia’s and South Carolina’s. One of those states that lacks the voter ID requirement is Vermont. When Bernie Sanders ran for president, he pledged to “abolish burdensome voter ID laws”; he warned more recently that “Voter ID laws aren't intended to discourage fraud, they are intended to discourage voting .” Although, technically, Sanders isn’t a Democrat (although to Warnock’s claim, I’m sure he knows him, given they serve together in the Senate).

I think the Democrats’ pivot on this issue is probably helpful. Voter ID has never been shown to meaningfully suppress the vote — and that’s with the laws mostly being written by right-wing Republicans. Almost all European countries require voter ID and it’s hardly controversial. By conceding the issue, Democrats can work to craft laws that make IDs free and easy to get. But the historical record shows that this is a shift in thinking for the Democrats.

Please help support our work by subscribing to INQUIRE. Get access to subscriber-only posts and more for $6 a month or $60 a year.